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JD Allen: Barracoon (Savant)

A review of the tenor saxophonist's 13th release

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JD Allen, Barracoon
The cover of Barracoon by JD Allen

The history of jazz is in JD Allen’s horn. Barracoon, his 13th release, follows a modest format: the tenor saxophonist lays out a simple melody, which is then cannibalized, regurgitated, and fired by his new rhythm section of drummer Nic Cacioppo and bassist Ian Kenselaar, over which Allen further deconstructs his initial message. It’s a traditional approach with untraditional results. For though Allen is a classic player in the styles of Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, and Ben Webster, he never settles on that hallowed ground.

Slapped and cajoled, punched and pulled by his new compadres, Allen instead travels the spaceways, where he engages Impressions-era Coltrane, the more mellow molds of Frank Lowe, and the softer underbelly of Archie Shepp. Tune after tune, Allen and Co. play it fast and loose, recalling the past and the future more than jazz’s sometimes calculated present.

Named for a long-lost book by Zora Neale Hurston (written in the ’30s, published last year), Barracoon is almost an all-Allen menu, unlike the ballad bounty of his 2018 release, Love Stone. Billowy melodies tumble out of his horn like milk from a cow, equal parts naturalness and ease infusing his compositions.

Replacing Allen’s longtime sidemen Greg August and Rudy Royston, Kenselaar and Cacioppo refuse to play it safe, driving scattershot call-and-response and gluey time-keeping. The rhythm duo open “Communion,” creating a walking line with a wobbly yet intense feel, before Allen enters playing a friendly, standard-worthy melody. The title song stamps and stutters, Allen chugging ballsy notes while Cacioppo’s hi-hats flutter. “The Goldilocks Zone” recalls something off Sonny Rollins on Impulse!, the trio playing loose, the air charged with summer heat. Closer “When You Wish Upon a Star” recalls Love Stone, Allen showing that at heart he’s a lover, not a fighter.

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Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.